Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

In the Tug Between Anarchy and Autocracy, People are Suffering

Three perspectives on the toll that current turmoil is taking on Kashmiris and Kashmir

Education in Danger (Editorial in the Rising Kashmir)

So far, the official as well as separatist response to the need of sustaining education has lacked both reason and commitment. The state authorities as well as the separatist leadership must understand the consequences of a constant halt in our education system.

While the separatist leaders should immediately allow school busses to ply on roads and ask the children to resume studies, the authorities should stop the unashamed policy of enforcing these halts through rampant restrictions and curfews, often undeclared. The masses are too weighed down by sufferings and huge sacrifices; they need leaders who would empower them. Halting education is a tool of disempowerment.

In past centuries, Kashmir’s tormentors have used this tool to subjugate people. This movement should hold the promise of empowerment rather than the dread of disempowerment. But, as of now, people feel sick of a two-way problem. The separatists want people to run community schools and the government ‘threatens’ the students of a rigorous exam policy in which no conflict concession would be granted and the students would be forced to prepare the whole curricula. From the government, people expect facilitation rather than the threat. Minister for Education Peerzada Syed’s announcement that the education was an essential service was commendable. But he could not keep his word. When a government declares something essential for public interest it musters all the available resources to ensure that particular service. But, sadly, what followed this positive thought was a threat. Peerzada ruled out any special relaxation to tenth and twelfth standard students and announced that exams would be held as per schedule; funnily this was without a word on curfews and curbs.

On the other hand the separatists have borrowed a leaf from Gandhi’s Satyagrah and launched what they describe as ‘civil disobedience’ movement. It must be remembered that Gandhi had called for a boycott of state institutions but at the same time had ensured that the society came up with the parallels. He would himself oversee several parallel schools, which would be run by volunteers. Products of such schools were to lead India in its post-independence years. Geelani too had called for such community schooling but without the parallels being ready. The separatist institutions seem unwilling to be part of such a project. We have two visible and strong separatist institutions in Kashmir Valley. Jama’at-e-Islami, of which Geelani is still a part, and Anjuman-e-Nusrat-ul-Islam, that is being patronized by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. Both run schools in almost all parts of Kashmir. In fact Jama’at’s Falah-e-Aam Trust or FAT is more organized and resourceful and is believed to run at least four hundred schools under a virtually parallel bureaucratic control. Ironically, these organizations have been found wanting in this hour of difficulty.

The fact of the matter is that Jammu and Kashmir still enjoys a semblance of distinction from India. We have a separate education board and most of the schools have now introduced Kashmiri as a compulsory subject. This distinction is a small constitutional space which the separatist leadership should utilize to empower the masses. Geelani, Mirwaiz and others are the twenty-first century leaders. They should resist medieval suggestions and ensure that the next generation does not rank them among the twelfth century clergymen who saw their relevance only in the mass ignorance of their supporters.

Please Think (Editorial in the Kashmir Images)

For the past couple of months, continued shutdowns, curfews and other restrictions have brought life in Kashmir to a grinding halt while the renewed cycle of violence has so far claimed over sixty lives. With the government showing little will and control over restraining its armed forces, whose fatalistic mob control tactics are doing more damage than good, the people too are in a defiant mood, belligerently fighting anything and everything that could break the current impasse.

And fishing in these troubled waters is the Hurriyat-G that is issuing week-long protest calendars week after week to try and signal that it is in complete command. Even though one can’t dispute Syed Ali Shah Geelani enjoying much sway over the public mood, yet it is very hard to gauge the exact quantum of control he might be wielding over the public anger and alienation here which is expressing itself with alarming spontaneity. The reason behind this conclusion is that even Geelani’s regular appeals to the people to protest peacefully without any kind of violence have gone somewhat unheeded.

Given that the resistance movements are governed more by euphoric irrationality than by rational and well-thought-out choices of the participant public, it seems not only imprudent but also irrational and cruel to put such movements to the cost-benefit analysis. But at the same time, in a bid to draw important inferences that might help in understanding the tactical parameters of the phenomenon, it is at times also necessary to go for such an exercise. So without furthering this debate which is fraught with the danger of treading on so many sentimental and emotionally charged-up questions and choices, it should suffice to say that the recent developments have yet again forced a change in the Kashmir’s political discourse in New Delhi. The political establishment and its intellectual muscle within and without had somewhat concluded that everything is alright in Kashmir. Particularly after the “successful” 2008 Assembly elections, when Kashmir got its brand new Chief Minister in the form of urbane Omar Abdullah, Indian media and intellectual circles hailed him as the panacea for all the problems that bedevil Kashmir. The underlying assumption was that but for misgovernance and the corrupt political elite in Kashmir, India would be the most huggable idea for Kashmiris.

This ultra-nationalist Indian intelligentsia, having their so-called patriotic blinkers on all the time, was not willing to acknowledge that the idea of India has always been problematic in Kashmir. Their expectation that mere change of guard in the political echelons would make difference on ground was always too farfetched and the recent developments have proved just so. The happenings of past couple of months are there as a vivid indicator that the Kashmir problem is beyond governance. It is certainly not about ‘bijli, pani, sadak, taleem and sehat’ and not about the employment packages or economic doles although the importance of all these elements too cannot be dismissed altogether. The Kashmir problem is about the larger political questions that bedevil not only the relationship between Srinagar and New Delhi but also the ties between India and Pakistan.

The recent developments have ended the political dream-sequence for Delhi, forcing it out of the denial mode to concede that Kashmir’s accession to India in “unique circumstances” qualifies it for special handling. Even though Delhi has expressed its willingness to talk with all shades of public opinion in Kashmir, including the separatists, but making such talks conditional brings a question mark to bear on its sincerity about the engagement. On their part, the Kashmiri separatists too have not shown much eagerness to talk. So the deadlock continues. This unwillingness of both sides to enter into negotiations may be explained by their belief in their ability to achieve their aims through other means, typically physical or political coercion. But the question is: can they…?

Paradise Lost

Zeenat Zeeshan Fazil

The unending cycle of violence has hit Kashmir at the peak of its tourism season which makes situation even worse for the local tourism industry. Following the cycle of killings in the region tourist enjoying the summer in the paradise were forced to leave the valley. Tourists who have made their reservations in advance are making them cancel and travel agencies say if the situation persists, in future, no tourist will come here. Most of the hotels here have zero occupancy, Dal Lake, Mughal Gardens and Boulevard road that usually in this very season used to dazzle with tourists are these days deserted by tourists affecting hundreds of People related to tourism trade.

According to Kashmir Houseboat Association President Azim Tuman “90 percent business is based on tourism but because of the strikes and curfew tourist number has gone completely down, now even if the situation improves our business will not happen till next year as the tourism season is over for us, and we have suffered heavy losses this season”. Tuman blames the media’s undue coverage of violent incidents for creating a mess. “The way Army’s flag march, locals throwing stones at the policemen and killings were reported in different sections of press obviously such things create fear among people outside Kashmir. This has also severely affected the state tourism”.

Editor Uqaab Manzoor Anjum, rejects the idea that the press is exaggerating the violence, he said “It’s the responsibility of press to show correct picture of the valley. Media is reporting what exactly happens here. We cannot remain silent on killings, strikes, curfew et al that valley is witnessing for around two months. It’s not fair to blame us for tourists decline. Media has to play its own role and can’t afford to paint a negative picture as positive. Anjum adds “If for example, valley is under curfew, how can we report that everything here is normal. State government may want the media to downplay the incidents in order to attract tourists, but media needs to be objective”

Tourism is the source of livelihood to thousands of people in Kashmir - from hoteliers and house boat owners to the shikarawallas and craftsmen.It is one of the major activities for stimulating the state’s economy. About 3 percent of the state’s population is directly or indirectly connected with this activity.

Prof Nissar Ali, Head of the Economics Department at Kashmir University informs “States GSDP is Rs 34,000 crore per annum out of which 10 percent income per year comes from tourism sector. This indicates Rs 3400 crore is annually generated from tourism. Tourism develops international relations, earns a lot of foreign exchange and contributes substantially to the gross domestic product,” In the last two months of unrest “tourism sector had incurred loss of Rs 560 crores till date,” he adds.

Due to the prevailing unrest we are losing not only sight seeing tourists but also piligrim tourists (Amarnath Yatris) on which our pony walls and other people are completely depended. They are those poor people who wait for whole year for the yatra to take place so that they can also make some bucks. Official figures indicates that last year 6 lakh tourists had taken Amaranth yatra and this year state was expected to host 8-10 lakh yatris but due to on going violence only 4 lakh yatris has come and if things turn normal we may then expect not more 50,000 pilgrims.This simply means that we are losing pilgrim tourism also. Before we end up losing everything, it becomes the responsibility of all conscientious citizens not to allow situation to take any new negative turn. Innocent killings by the hostile security forces, stone pelting incidents needs to be stopped and normalcy given a chance for valley’s better future and peaceful solution.

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